Tag Archives: german

Aguirre, the Wrath of God – Review

11 Sep

One of the most iconic professional relationships in the history of film is that of Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski. Herzog is a brilliant film maker who pushes the boundaries of cinema and has made a name for himself doing it. Kinski, on the other hand, was an absolute madman who threatened people on a daily basis and had manic explosions that makes the Vesuvius eruption seem like nothing. While the two men were constantly at odds with each other, it can’t be denied that they did some excellent work together. The first film they ever collaborated on is the 1972 film, Aguirre, the Wrath of God. Upon its release, it was a critical success and has been called a masterpiece of cult film making. That’s a lot to live up to, but this minimalist adventure into both the South American jungles and insanity lives up to the hype.

After conquering the Incan Empire, conquistador Gonzalo Pizarro (Alejandro Repullés) leads a group of his men and slaves down the Andes Mountains and into the jungle in search of the lost city of El Dorado. As they get deeper and deeper into the jungle, Pizarro decides to send a small party further downriver, led by Don Pedro de Ursúa (Ruy Guerra) and his second in command being the manipulative Don Lope de Aguirre (Klaus Kinski). When Ursúa recommends going back to Pizarro’s camp after 7 days of searching, Aguirre decides that that this course of action is unacceptable and leads a mutiny against the leader and elects the slovenly nobleman Don Fernando de Guzmán (Peter Berling) to lead the group to El Dorado. Of course, Aguirre knows that Guzmán is a fool and uses this to take power over the party and to build a raft to sail deeper into the jungle that is crawling with native cannibals looking for food. As members of the party start being picked off one by one, Aguirre falls further into madness and becomes hungrier for power, and will stop at nothing to find El Dorado, even when the expedition becomes a hopeless tragedy.

Who better to tell this story than Werner Herzog? Well, I could actually think of a handful of people to make it before I thought of Herzog, but it’s excellent that he was the one to tackle it. The characters in this movie are all based on real people who actually did go looking for the mythical city of El Dorado, but it isn’t known for sure how they all met their demises. Herzog isn’t interested with fact in Aguirre, the Wrath of God. Instead, he’s interested in weaving a story full of deception, manipulation, and murder. While this all sounds very theatrical, this movie is anything but. Shot on location in South America, it would’ve been impossible to bring a film crew out that was necessary with the budget Herzog was working with. This made the film maker shoot scenes in whatever way he can which made for a very loose and almost documentary style. It’s a method that makes this film absolutely engrossing and it really worked at making me get immersed in the jungle environment these characters were trying to navigate. It’s a prime example of a low budget miracle.

This was a highly demanding movie for both the actors and the crew, so I imagine it wasn’t always easy getting the performance that was necessary, especially from you know who. Still, the performances in this movie feel very natural and ahead of their times in some ways. Herzog is an auteur film maker and his demand for his vision is evident with the stories that have been recorded from the set and the actual outcome of the movie. I do have to talk about Kinski’s performance since it’s one of the main reasons to even watch this film. He has a fire in his eyes and he captures the madness of Aguirre with perfection. He’s actually not in it as much as I thought he would be, especially since the movie is named after his character. He definitely is the main driving force behind the film, but he often times pulls the strings from offscreen. When he is onscreen, however, his acting is electrifying and you can see why Herzog chose to collaborate with him four more times after this despite the trouble he had.

This movie had the story to be an epic yet tragic adventure tale full of larger than life heroes and villains. Instead, Herzog went the much quieter route and it’s all the better for it. Most of the violence happens within the blink of an eye and most of the dialogue is spoken in a very uncinematic way. Much like everything else, the story doesn’t flow and move like a traditional film. Aguirre, the Wrath of God is a very slow movie that isn’t afraid to completely stop moving for a while and focus on the stability, both mental and physical, of the characters. If you’re looking for a swashbuckling action adventure film, Aguirre is bound to disappoint. This is a film that takes its time and forces you to stick with it.

Aguirre, the Wrath of God is an outstanding film through and through. It’s a subtle tale of madness that works so well because the storytelling is so quiet and unconventional. Herzog’s guerrilla style behind the camera also made the film seem all the more authentic. If anything, it’s worth a viewing just to see Kinski’s manic performance come to life before your very eyes. This isn’t a movie for everyone I don’t think, but it is a masterpiece of the cinematic arts and any brave lover of film needs to give it a go.

Final Grade: A

Das Boot – Review

8 Jan

Recently I reviewed Fury, David Ayer’s new World War II film that used the claustrophobia of operating a tank on the battlefield to its full advantage. This claustrophobia and panic was already expertly utilized before in Wolfgang Petersen’s 1981 war epic about submarine warfare, Das Boot. Not only did Petersen make audiences feel uncomfortable with being in a submarine, but also uncomfortable with our ideas about all German soldiers in World War II. What makes Das Boot brilliant is that it isn’t so much about the war, but the dehumanizing effects on individuals who were thrown into it.

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In 1941, the Allied forces and the Nazis were engaged in an epic battle for control of the Atlantic. Lt. Werner (Herbert Grönemeyer) is a German war correspondent assigned to the German submarine U-96, soon meeting members of its crew like the brave and hard headed captain (Jürgen Prochnow). The submarine leaves port and Werner begins to learn what it means to be on a U-boat: boredom, no privacy, and sheer terror. While they’re not sailing the seas waiting for something to happen, they engage in battles of cat and mouse against British destroyer ships with each encounter possibly being their last. While the soldiers may consider themselves to be battle hardened warriors, it is clear the war is taking more of a toll on them than they may realize.

This movie is a classic, there’s really no denying that. Since making this film, Petersen went on to make films like Air Force One and The Perfect Storm, both of which are fine movies, but it’s clear that none of the movies he’s done since has come close to the epic scope and intensity of Das Boot. This film definitely deserves to be considered a classic because it is one of the defining war movies of all time and also just a fantastic film, but, good God, if it isn’t hard to sit through. There are many different versions of this movie, and I have the director’s cut which has over an hour of what was in the original making it three and a half hours long. I’ve seen longer movies, like Lawrence of Arabia as an example, but this one is much more difficult.

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There’s very little in Das Boot that can be called entertaining. Now, before you say anything, that isn’t a bad thing. This movie is an experience, and one that puts you right in the middle of the action thanks to the brilliant camerawork of cinematographer Jost Vacano, who created a camera that used gyroscopes for balance before the steadicam was a really practical thing. There’s really intense and suspenseful scenes of naval warfare as well where the submarine has to hide from the better equipped destroyers and find a weak spot to attack. There’s also a whole lot of waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting. This makes the movie really hard to sit through and feel a lot longer, but it is necessary for the whole experience of the movie. This is supposed to make viewers feel the claustrophobia and fear of being in an underwater tube, and it works better than I really would want it to.

Another thing that makes Das Boot far superior than your average war film is how it treats its subjects. True enough, this is a German production made by a German director so its clear that the subjects are more than likely going to be German, which seems like it may seem awkward considering Nazis. Oddly enough, there isn’t much talk of Nazis and only a little mentioning of Hitler and Churchill. This is a movie about the individual, the human soldier and his battle to just wake up the next morning. This isn’t a movie about ideals or political beliefs with clear good guys and bad guys. It simply, or complexly, shows the reality and unbiased horrors of war.

Das Boot is one of the best war movies ever made. It shows the realities of battle and the effects it has on young soldiers while also showing a realistic depiction of life in a submarine. The battle scenes are intense, the special effects are awesome, and the acting is truly fantastic. As hard as this movie can be to sit through, it’s also a very rewarding experience. Not only do you get to witness a piece of cinematic history, but you also feel like you’re seeing history play out in front of your eyes. It’s a landmark achievement in film and is not to be missed.

The Baader Meinhof Complex – Review

14 Oct

There are some movies that are so obsessively made and complicated that it’s a wonder my brain doesn’t just go into a complete overload. Covering historical topics, especially controversial ones, can either make a film go down as a classic that explored cultural significance with panache, or be dismissed as disgusting pieces of unrealistic propaganda. Enter Uli Edel’s exceptional 2008 film, The Baader Meinhof Complex. This is a really extraordinary piece of historical film making that takes a look at a violent time throughout the world without taking sides, but simply tells a story. Of course as accurate and beautiful it is, problems with the pacing and the run time would have made this film an even better mini series.

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The year is 1967 and the world seems to be overrun by violence from America, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. Each of these conflicts seem to wrap around another, and there is fear in Germany of another Fascist state. Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck) is a left wing journalist who meets up with two young revolutionaries Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu) and Gudrun Ensslin (Johanna Wokalek). Putting together their political ideals and their own personal opinions, they start a group called the RAF, which stands for the Red Army Faction. The group begins almost innocently enough with plans to just rob banks in the name of the people, but soon they become more deadly and earn the title as one of the most notorious group of terrorists ever to exist.

Even writing this synopsis is hard since this movie deals with ten years of jam packed history. Events flashed by before I even had a chance to process what was happening and really digest the significance of it all. It got me thinking about the mini series John Adams, a piece of work that I argue is the most beautiful thing ever to be filmed. If that was made as a movie, the impact would not have been as significant because I wouldn’t have had the time to grow with the characters and fully understand all of the actions and events. That’s the only bad thing, really, about The Baader Meinhof Complex. Some of the most important scenes would happen as part of a montage, which isn’t really how a story should be told.

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Since this movie is about history, I’d say that it’s important that the film makers got the history right. I hate watching movies that claim to be based on historical truth and then come to realize that that’s just a bunch of bullshit. What I didn’t realize before I started watching The Baader Meinhof Complex is just how historically accurate it actually is, down to how certain rooms are designed. Uli Edel looked at lots of different pictures and used the resource of biographer and writer of the book the movie is based on, Stefan Aust. The most impressive example of historical accuracy in this film is probably in the very beginning when the riots that ensued over the Shah of Iran at the Deutsche Oper, which resulted in the death of a student.

As you may have guessed, this is a very politically charged movie, but it never takes the sides of any one group. Sure, we’re supposed to sympathize with the leaders of the RAF for a while, but then our feelings dramatically change when they turn violent. Meanwhile, we sympathize with the government for needing to put an end to their terrorism, although we can’t fully get behind them either. Who we really are meant to feel for are the victims caught in the middle of the two powerhouses, even though that groups never gets a chance to speak for themselves. The violence that occurs in this movie, which many times involves innocent people, is sudden, realistic, and often shocking, which goes well with the historical accuracy behind the movie.

The Baader Meinhof Complex is a difficult movie, especially if you aren’t exactly an expert in European terrorism of the late ’60s and early 70s. Even if you aren’t, much like myself, you probably still know of how volatile the time was. It’s also difficult because things happen so quickly, so as to cover the amount of history that is jam packed into a two and a half hour long movie. Like I said before, this would have worked out so much better as a mini series, but that just isn’t how it went down. As it stands, The Baader Meinhof Complex is an interesting, exciting, and dramatic movie even though it has flaws of its own. Any history buff or lover of thrillers should miss out on this one.

M – Review

27 Aug

Fritz Lang is one of those names that pops up quite frequently in the history of film, but it always seems that everyone is completely baffled on who Lang really was. Being an avid liar during interviews as well as being notoriously awful to his actors and the crew, it can’t really be denied that, as a person, Fritz Lang sucked the big one. The same can’t really be said about his work as a film maker, however, being one of the most influential of the early directors. I’ve already covered Metropolis on this blog, but now let’s look at his first sound feature, and what many call his masterpiece, M.

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After little Elsie Beckmann is kidnapped and murdered on her way home from school, the entire city of Berlin is put on alert to watch their children and keep their eyes open for this killer that has escaped the law once before. This killer is Hans Beckert (Peter Lorre), a meticulously evil man who has his eyes one every little girl in the city. The investigation, led by Inspector Karl Lohmann (Otto Wernicke), has been unsuccessful in almost every regard, even after numerous raids on crime dens in the city’s underworld. Soon, the criminals of the city begin to fight back against the murderer, after the heavy police activity has disrupted their own business. A man only known as the Safecracker (Gustaf Gründgens) organizes an army of beggars to being a patrol of their own.

Much like Metropolis, this film is also ahead of its time, and helped pave the way for psychological thrillers yet to come. The topic of child murderers wasn’t a big trend at this time in movie history, and I can’t say that I’ve seen a movie before this one was released that deals so heavily with the topic. MGM studio executive Irving Thalberg was especially affected by M, even though he admitted that if he didn’t know any better, he never would have agreed to the project. Still, he showed this film to all of his newly hired directors and writers as a point of reference for the kind of work that they should all be doing. This makes sense because everything from the acting to the writing to the cinematography work very well in unison, and especially Lang’s use of sound helped give this early talkie a special kind of touch.

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Film noir wasn’t really considered a style back in 1931, although you could see elements that would be essential in some films of this time. is one of those movies that obviously was a huge inspiration to film noir film makers of the forties and fifties. Shadows from buildings make stark shapes on empty streets in the dead of night, and silhouetted characters make certain scenes even more suspenseful. Sound like some of the best noir movies out there. The way the city at night is also very German, with some of the shadowy shapes hearkening back to the days of Expressionism. Sound and music are also very important in M. This was the first film to actually equate a song (In the Hall of the Mountain King) with a character (Peter Lorre’s character). It was done before in opera, but now made the jump to film with this movie. Some scenes are also eerily quiet which was done to save money, but Lang also said it gave scenes of terror more suspense, which is true.

This film has had a very unique history. Being released a few years before the Nazi party officially took power, Lang was uninhibited by certain censorial procedures that would’ve been in place. Joseph Goebbels, himself, even stated that was a remarkable film, but would later go on to use it in propaganda against the Jews, leaving both Lorre and Lang to flee to America. It was kept locked away for many years, but was found once again, only with many frames damaged. The film was even cut down to a much shorter run time which pretty much bastardized Lang’s original vision. It’s only been recently that has been restored to the closest its ever been to the original version. Only one scene is known to be missing, but all of the damaged frames and aspect ratios have all been fixed.

is truly and amazing movie and without question Fritz Lang’s masterpiece. It isn’t just a masterpiece for Lang, but one for the entire genre of psychological thrillers. The themes were new and controversial, while the acting, cinematography, and set design were all fantastic. While it did inspire many film makers of the future and even help shape film noir, is a movie that stands alone as just a fantastic piece of work that will stay in your mind forever, and quite frankly, as perfect a movie as you will get.